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Two ways the gospel changes your view of sin
The fundamental motives of self-justification and self-glorification are what distort our lives and alienate us from God.
Unless a person is converted, these motives operate as the main driver for everything we do. This situation is true of every culture and class of people. In the ultimate sense, then, everyone is equally a sinner in need of Jesus’ salvation by grace alone.
Once this radical view of sin is grasped, it revolutionizes the believer’s attitude toward others who do not share his or her beliefs. Here are two ways it changes you in this regard.
1. It means you sense more than ever a common humanity with others.
The biblical view significantly changes in Christians the natural and traditional human attitudes toward those who behave in ways that they do not approve. It is normal for human beings (whose hearts are always seeking to justify themselves and who are always trying to make the case that they are one of the “good guys”) to divide the world into the good and the bad. If, however, everyone is naturally alienated from God and therefore “evil,” then that goes for everyone from murderers to ministers.
The biblical teaching on sin shows us the complete pervasiveness of sin and the ultimate impossibility of dividing the world neatly into sinful people and good people. It eliminates our attitudes of superiority toward others and our practices of shunning or excluding those with whom we differ.
2. It means you expect to be constantly misunderstood—especially about sin!
The gospel message is that we are saved by Christ’s work, not by our work. But everyone else (even most people in church) believes that Christianity is just another form of religion, which operates on the principle that you are saved if you live a good life and avoid sin. Therefore, when others hear a Christian call something “sin,” they believe you are saying, “These are bad people (and I am good). These are people who should be shunned, excluded (and I should be welcomed). These are people whom God condemns because of this behavior (but I am accepted by God because I don’t do that).”
You may not mean that by the term “sin” at all, but you must realize and expect that others will hear what you are saying that way. They have to. Until they grasp the profound difference between religion and the Christian faith, they will probably understand your invoking of the word “sin” as self-righteous condemnation—no matter what your disclaimers.
The biblical teaching on sin shows us the complete pervasiveness of sin and the ultimate impossibility of dividing the world neatly into sinful people and good people.
For example, if most people hear you saying, “People who have sex outside of marriage are sinning,” they will immediately believe you look down on them, that you think they are lost because of that behavior, that you are one of the “good people” who don’t do things like that, and so on. If people hear a Christian say, “Well, these people are sinning, but I don’t think of myself as any better than they are—we are all sinners needing grace,” they will think you have spoken nonsense. They have a completely different grid or paradigm in their minds about how anyone can approach and relate to God, and they are hearing the word “sin” through that grid . . .
Christians must talk to their friends about sin to explain our need for Jesus and for God’s grace, but we must do so in a way that quickly puts the term in context—the context of the full message of Jesus’ salvation.
Want more? This post is excerpted from Dr. Keller’s article “Understanding Sin”
This content appears with permission from Redeemer City to City where you'll find more resources from Dr. Tim Keller. Copyright © 2001 by Timothy Keller, © 2009 by Redeemer City to City. We encourage you to use and share this material freely—but you may not charge money for it, change the wording, or remove the copyright information.